Filtered By: Showbiz

Henry Golding, Awkwafina,and Riz Ahmed talk of their new projects, plus the pandemic

Los Angeles — Awkwafina, the 32-year-old comedienne/rapper who blossomed as an award-winning dramatic actress in “The Farewell,” shared with us her close relationship to her grandmother, her thoughts on fighting discrimination, the importance of showcasing her Asian culture in her TV series, “Awkwafina is Nora from Queens,” and working with her “Crazy Rich Asians” colleague Nico Santos.

Henry Golding, another “Crazy Rich Asians” alum who is also doing well in his showbiz career, talked to us about what he has discovered about Vietnam as he did the film “Monsoon,” what he has learned and discovered while in lockdown with his wife during this pandemic, and how he is planning to celebrate Christmas which is just around the corner.

Riz Ahmed, the British-Pakistani actor-rapper who became the first Muslim and first Asian to win a lead acting Emmy for “The Night Of,” revealed how he learned sign language for his film “The Sound of Metal” and being part of this silent world as a rock artist who lost his sense of hearing, what he learned during the pandemic and the song he composed during the lockdown about the people he has lost to COVID-19.

Below are excerpts of our conversations with the three talented Asian-American actors:



Last time we talked to you, you said you just bought a house in Los Angeles. So, your father and grandmother are still living in New York?

Yeah the last we left off, I did just buy my first place and I mostly grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Queens with my grandparents, so moving to a house is definitely more of a transition. 

It's still a bit of in between but I have squirrels outside and whatnot so I have a yard which is interesting but my dad and grandma are currently still in New York. My grandma was going a little crazy at the beginning of the lockdown. She really wanted to go out and basically wasn't allowed to so she's holding on in New York but, yeah, they're still there.

How important was it to showcase your Asian community in the show?

We really wanted to depict a specific Asian experience. It was both the highest priority and also the lowest priority. I’ve spent a lot of my career having my own struggles with how properly to represent people and also to have that title but also realizing that everything that I do, I am simultaneously representing.

It's really important for us because it is often historically the lowest common denominator when it comes to diversity and then even in diversity within the past 10, 20 years it was diversity without representation.

So more than ever, maybe focusing specifically on experiences and how it universally ties to everyone else and how it's an honest portrayal of an authentically written group. It's a constant situation between wanting to talk and to further this Asian family story.

How was it working with Filipino-American actor Nico Santos in “Crazy Rich Asians”? Do you have another project with him?

Oh, I hope so! I love Nico, He’s one of my favorites. He would absolutely kill us on that set on “Crazy Rich Asians,” with his impressions. 

He is a very special performer because he is really funny as an actor but then his standup is like, you can’t breathe. And I hope I can work with him again, he’s great.

The show is a lot about you and not everything about your personal life. How does it feel to reveal so much and how much of the character is really you?

I think the character is really me at a specific time in my life. And I do fit it in and some of it I don’t always think. I will regret some. I will be like wow, so much is out there.  But at the same time, you need the personal stuff to tell a moralistic story. I think a lot of the weirdest things in this are actually like Atlantic City, the bus thing. I can’t make up half the stuff that has happened to me.  But yeah, it’s all or nothing.

In these times when there is an increased hate for Asians or discrimination, what would you advise people how to handle this?

Well I would, I mean ignorance, stupidity, those things. Those are clearly a part of what we see, are issues of the world and specifically of the United States right now. And I think when it comes to that, I think we have to just reassess why we are so angry, why we are taking it out on groups that had nothing to do with it, why we are not just ingesting facts. I think that there is really no room for that kind of ignorance or hatred.  And I am disgusted by it for sure.

Henry Golding


What did you discover about the Vietnamese culture while doing this film?

I love that romantic sort of memory of the bicycles and the endless people riding and still to this day, there are a tremendous number of cyclers. But now they are driving little mopeds, little noisy, mosquito-like little motorbikes.

I have been to Vietnam probably about four or five times before actually heading over there to film, and I loved it every single time. But I think what really stood out, when you spend longer than three or four months in a particular country, you really get to know the locals and stuff.

It was my first time up in Hanoi, which is definitely a little bit more French-Colonial architecture and it’s a little bit slower in pace rather than Saigon.

But I think it’s amazing because the movie “Monsoon” actually reflects a lot of the sentimentality when it comes to the local Vietnamese really wanting to move on from the American war.

They really don’t want to be defined by their past and the atrocities that happened. Of course, it’s always going to be a talking point, but a lot of the locals are young entrepreneurs. 

I really saw the fact that they really have a lust for life and that’s what is explored in the movie as well with the character called Linh. We have that beautiful scene where we are picking the Lotus flower and she’s of the generation that just wants to branch out and make their own history. So, it was probably one of the most amazing three months that I’ve spent anywhere to be honest.

How did you spend the lockdown with your wife and what did you learn from the pandemic?

One of the biggest things that has come to the forefront of a lot of people’s minds is the need for family and health, and to really spend time away from work. 

It’s interesting, it’s only during this period of time that we realize that hey, I can actually spend four days a week, five days a week working from home and spending all the rest of the time that I have with my kids or with my parents that I don’t often see.

It’s given us a step back to look at our lives and see what really matters the most. And for me it was being in the same country for longer than one month with my wife.

We all travel and we are constantly on-the-go, but this is the time where almost we don’t have that opportunity and we are able to spend the time with our closest ones that we may never have had and that’s something that’s very true with us. 

I hope people stay sensible, people understand that if we all work together in minimizing the infection rate, wearing masks, then we will get to the vaccine with minimal deaths. The vaccine will take a while so during that period of time we have to do our best to be healthy.

Just like in the film, how much did seek a personal journey to find out places like your parents’ first home?

Yes, for me that’s really one of the major factors of why I was interested in “Monsoon,” was the fact that this character Kit had a very similar kind of experience with when I went back after growing up through primary school, secondary school and into my working life in the U.K. 

But after moving back to Malaysia, it was just like, I had a preconception of, 'oh I am going to be accepted?' It’s going to be a cakewalk, but I did not feel that way. I felt as alienated as Kit experiences — you don’t know the language, you don’t know the cultural ins and outs, the infrastructure is completely different and it’s just taken away, it’s a crescendo of noise in Vietnam.

It’s an unusual year. How are you celebrating Christmas which is just around the corner?

A lot of people around the world have their own little pods at the moment, your friendship pods, who have the same sentimentalities as you, trying to stay safe, trying to stay sensible.

So, I have a fantastic pod of friends in Los Angeles, in which we are all imports as such. We’ve got friends from Japan, we’ve got friends from Chicago even who lives in LA, from the UK, and as always, all those types of holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, we will be spending it together, trying to stay out of trouble.

Are you someone who is very good at picking Christmas gifts or someone who likes to receive?

I’ll tell you; I am the worst Christmas present receiver. I am the worst. My wife will be a testament to that, because she’s like, anything I get you don’t like or you don’t wear.  I’m very picky when it comes to things, but I prefer giving out, I think I have a great aptitude for choosing good presents. 

And so, I prefer giving than receiving. But when I get, when somebody hits it on the head, I think like everybody, where it’s not a pair of socks or a travel blanket or whatever and you get something that you think wow, actually this is really, really cool, that sends me over the edge, I love that.

So, what do you want for Christmas this year?

I would love a little weekend in a vineyard somewhere, just to spend some time. The problem with living in California is you have got fantastic vineyards, you have got Napa, you have got Temecula, they are super close, but you have got to drive there and usually drive back. So, you are limited to a couple of sips here, a couple of sips there. So maybe a weekend in a vineyard somewhere.

What kind of a child were you?

I grew up on the beaches of East Coast Malaysia and so we were running wild with my buddies as sort of like a 7 year old, 8 year old would causing all sorts of mischief but we were really into like the G.I. Joe, the X-Men, Ninja Turtles, the He-Man's so I think at one stage when I was really young I had the He-Man sword, I had all the figurines. I was into Lego but, yeah, we definitely got into some trouble as kids.

What is your COVID love story?

Being able to spend the time with my wife, that we haven't been able to since we got married in August 2016. Six months after we married, I got the role of “Crazy Rich Asians” and so ever since then it has been this whirlwind of traveling, of like of working, of getting things together and it's only up until this period of time that we've been able to stay in one part of the country for longer than a month or 2 months and we've spent a good 9, 10 months together, which has been phenomenal for our relationship and planning for future things. I am thankful to have this time.

Riz Ahmed


You are also a singer. Have you ever thought of losing your voice and being part of that world?

In many ways, Ruben my character in the film, is more different to me than any character I’ve ever played before, and that was truly what attracted me to the role. But there was also a kind of emotional entry point for me which was exactly what you’re pointing out, which is that I have actually been in that position a couple of times in a couple of different ways over the course of my life and my career.

At certain points, I wondered whether I’d be able to continue doing this just for financial reasons, doing back to back indie films that might be well received critically doesn’t necessarily translate to me being able to make ends meet.

From a health perspective, something I’ve spoken about before is around the time of doing “Bourne” and “Star Wars” and “Venom” and the Emmy and stuff and releasing a couple of albums, I hit a wall of exhaustion and my body stopped me. I was pretty much out of action for a couple of months, almost incapacitated. I wondered whether I would fully recover, things were pretty bad actually.

So, when this script came to me, it was both the fact that this character felt so different to me and I knew I’d have to try and transform and learn all these skills, which was very appealing to me although very scary, but there was this emotional entry point.

I felt this feeling, the fear of losing the very thing that gets you up in the morning, losing the thing that you define yourself true. I know how terrifying that can be so in many ways. It required the most prep but in other ways it was the most personal, one of the most personal things I’ve done.

What have you learned during this pandemic?

What has COVID mean for our culture and our society? We’re a workaholic society that’s suddenly been thrown into a limbo, into a lockdown, into a purgatory because of a health crisis.

And in the midst of that health crisis purgatory, we’re forced to reassess what really matters. That is exactly Ruben’s journey in “The Sound of Metal.” It’s a workaholic drama, has a health crisis, goes into a lockdown in which he has to reassess what really matters. So, I hope and actually believe that many people will really be able to relate to the film even more after COVID.

You have done a new rap song during this pandemic which talks about people close to you whom you have lost to COVID. Can you talk about that?

First of all, thank you so much for researching that and taking out that poem. It’s called “I Miss You,” and it’s something that I wrote right at the start of lockdown, after I lost my first close relative to COVID and then went on to lose a second relative.

I feel more and more that a lot of what I do, I’m doing because I need to get it off my chest. It’s a kind of catharsis to write and perform and express these poems or to even make movies like “The Sound of Metal.”

As I said, there was a very personal reason; it wasn’t a calculation doing a movie like this. It was a first-time filmmaker; it was a leap of faith in terms of having to learn the drums and having to learn American Sign Language. These were things that we didn’t know which way it would go but I just felt for very personal reasons I needed to throw myself into a challenge.

And similarly, with this rap, I wrote it for personal reasons. My music is not a commercial enterprise; it doesn’t reach a mass audience.

That’s ok, what I’m looking for with my music isn’t a breadth of connection, it just lightly touches everyone in the world. I’m looking for a depth of connection. I know the people that do connect with my music and my words. I know it touches them deeply, the people who need that.

And so, what’s been really healing for me is expressing my loss and having other people from around the world reach out and write to me about the loved ones that they’ve lost around the world. That I think is a big part of healing is just to know you’re not alone going through an experience. So yeah, I guess sharing a loss kind of feels less painful. And so, I hope this helps…I know it’s helped my pain a little bit and I hope it helps other people’s.

You don’t often get to learn a new language for a movie. How was it learning sign language?

Unfortunately, we live in a very segregated society between the hearing and deaf communities and what I think this film asks all of us is why. 

I think it’s a unique film in that it’s presented in captions everywhere, every print of the film is captioned, so the communities can both watch the same movie. But because of that segregation, I sadly haven’t been able to. I haven’t really kind of been socializing.

Of course, within the COVID era, no one has been socializing. But yeah, I haven’t kind of been around the deaf community in that same way that I was for those seven months. I was really pleased to be able to get to a level where we were improvising and we were speaking fluently in American sign language on set and during the scenes, but with any language as you know if you don’t practice it, it gets rusty. 

So, at this point I guess I’ve probably slid right back. I am anxious to keep it up to be honest. It’s a beautiful, expressive and enriching language. — LA, GMA News